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British Airways

Volume 33: debated on Monday 6 December 1982

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asked the Minister for Trade in what circumstances his consent is required for the disposal of assets by British Airways.

British Airways do not require the consent of my right hon. and noble Friend for the disposal of assets, but the Government would expect to be consulted beforehand in important cases.

When my hon. Friend is consulted by British Airways on, say, the proposed sale of TriStars to the Ministry of Defence as tanker transports, will he give the proposal favourable support, as it would merely be a book-keeping transaction and not a question of buying a new product from overseas—as is the case with its competitor—and it might be a more equitable way of reducing British Airways' debt than by writing off loans?

It is for the Secretary of State for Defence to say whether his Department prefers TriStars or DC10s, but I have no doubt he has heard my hon. Friend's view.

As the Britoil flotation was a fiasco, as British Airways' results for the first half of the year are very poor indeed, in spite of the accounts being massaged, and as every other European country is proud to have a flag-carrying airline, will the Minister abandon his private peccadillo aimed at selling off British Airways, send Sir John King back to where he came from and let the professionals run British Airways properly?

The short answer to all of those interesting and absurd questions is "No, Sir". I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman cannot join me and, I should have thought, all other reasonable people in giving a tremendous welcome to the fact that British Airways have turned in a net profit of some £80 million for the first six months of this year. That is an almost miraculous turn around—

Does my hon. Friend agree that, notwithstanding the good management that BA now enjoy, unless the accumulated deficit is written off, there is no chance of BA becoming truly viable and able to float on the stock market? When does my hon. Friend intend to write off that accumulated deficit?

I am acutely aware of the heavy burden of £1 million of debt that past mismanagement and misdemeanours have loaded on BA. It is an important matter, upon which we have not yet come to any substantive conclusion.

Will the Minister end the uncertainty and confirm that he will not sell BA off before the general election? Does he agree that a time of slump, uncertainty and over-capacity is the worst possible time to consider selling off a large airline and that the move could result only in a cut-price sale of a valuable national asset? Have the Government learnt nothing from the Amersham International and Britoil sales? Cannot the Government begin to understand the Stock Exchange, even if they cannot run the economy?

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's first three questions is "No, Sir", "No, Sir", "No, Sir". With regard to the lessons to be learnt from Amersham and Britoil, the hon. Gentleman may be absolutely confident that we have learnt all the wise lessons that it is possible to have learnt.